Mad Max: Details of the Lawsuit That Could Force the Franchise Off the Road

George Miller has plans for two more Mad Max movies following Fury Road, but a knotty lawsuit could spell trouble for his franchise...

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

When Mad Max: Fury Road emerged in 2015, it marked the end of an almost 20 year-long process that constantly seemed on the verge of disaster.

Work began on the fourth film in the franchise way back in the 1990s, only for the project to be put on hold in the wake of 9/11. Later worries included Mel Gibson’s very public fall from grace (he was eventually replaced by Tom Hardy), bouts of dreadful weather that saw the filming location move from Australia to Namibia, and a difficult shoot that reportedly saw Warner Bros executives fly out to oversee what was happening.

Critically acclaimed and modestly successful at the box-office, Mad Max: Fury Road was far from the disaster some might have been expecting – and, in fact, writer-director George Miller has often said that he has two more movies he plans to make, beginning with something currently titled Mad Max: The Wasteland.

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Even three years after Fury Road‘s release, however, it seems that its problems still aren’t far behind it. Indeed, a potentially knotty courtroom battle could mean that Miller’s planned sequels will never appear at all.

The trouble began in November 2017, when reports emerged that Miller was suing Fury Road‘s studio, Warner Bros, over what he claims were unpaid earnings from the movie. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, for example, Miller was expecting to receive a $7 million bonus for keeping Fury Roads final net budget under the $157 million mark; Warner Bros insisted that Miller went over-budget, and therefore didn’t qualify for his bonus. 

Miller’s production company, Kennedy Miller Mitchell, meanwhile, insisted that Warner Bros caused “substantial changes and delays” to Fury Road, which was why the budget over-ran; take those into account, the firm added, and  the action sequel actually “came in under budget.” 

As if that wasn’t enough, Miller’s company also added a claim that Warner Bros had breached an agreement by making a co-financing arrangement with another production outfit – Brett Ratner’s RatPac Entertainment.

“We would much prefer to be making movies with Warner Bros than litigating with them,” a statement from Kennedy Miller Mitchell read at the time, “but after trying for over a year, we were unable to reach a satisfactory resolution and have had to resort to a law suit to sort things out.”

It’s now six months on from those initial reports, and it still looks as though both sides are digging in their heels. In a counter-claim, Warner Bros has argued that production delays and escalating costs – and not the studio’s demands for changes – were the reason for the budget rising beyond the $185 million mark and, to boot, delaying Fury Road‘s release by over a year. 

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Miller’s production company, meanwhile, has outlined its complaints in more detail. It insists, for example, that Warner Bros staged “at least 10” test screenings of Fury Road, and “requested further changes” based on the feedback from each of them. The cost overruns were, the documents allege, due to Warner Bros’ decisions, that an additional budget of $31 million was approved by the studio, and that both parties agreed that those costs wouldn’t be added to the overall cost of the movie.

Aside from their legal tussle over exactly what constitutes the final net budget, it seems that the final cut of Fury Road didn’t entirely meet the criteria laid out in Warner Bros’ contract, either. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the studio was expecting a 100-minute movie “that was rated no harder than a PG-13”; what it got instead was an R-rated movie that clocked in at two hours.

In a 2015 interview, George Miller said of the potential for Fury Road to be a PG-13 movie, “It was sort of borderline. It could have been if we’d have softened a few things. The studio, to their credit, said, ‘If we take all that stuff, it’ll lose that quality. It’ll lose its tone. It’ll be too watered down.’ When we tested it with audiences, if we softened it too much, it didn’t have that intensity. It tested much better when we put that more quirky, intense stuff in there.” 

It’s a sign, perhaps, of the souring relationship between director and studio. Three years ago, Warner Bros were only too happy to release an R-rated cut of Fury Road; when the movie received 10 Oscar nominations a few months later, winning six, few would have argued that backing Miller’s creative decisions had borne dividends. With Miller and Warner Bros now in an Australian court, the minutiae of exactly who agreed on what and when is being grimly picked over, from the approval of reshoots to revised endings.

The sad fallout from all this is that, with all the legal wrangling going on, Mad Max: The Wasteland is currently in a state of limbo. It’s been said for some time that Miller has the scripts for the fifth and sixth Mad Max movies ready to roll; yet three years later, and there’s still no firm release date for The Wasteland, nor will there be, it seems, until Miller and Warner Bros settle their differences.

Fury Road emerged as an unusually raw, adrenalized summer movie – one that, despite its considerable budget, retained the grit and rigor of the first two movies from the ’70s and ’80s. It’s sad to think, then, that it might not be a lack of fuel or resources that drives the Mad Max franchise off the road, but a legal battle.

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